Of the great cities in Europe I’ve had a chance to visit; one that I would most highly recommend is Prague, the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic. It has warm summers and chilly, but not extremely cold winters, and in 2011 was the sixth most visited city in Europe. The Vltava River is the city’s focal point, and the main attractions are its history and culture, having ten major museums, theaters and historical exhibits. Fortunately much of the old architecture has survived the destruction of Europe during the last century.
Being a major city in Eastern Europe, it has been at the center of history in that region for 1000 years. At that point it became a center of trade for Europe, and with the wealth that trade brings it became a seat of power for what would become the Kingdom of Bohemia. A large Jewish community was established, and the Old New synagogue, constructed in 1270 still stands.
Over the centuries Prague has had its ups and downs. The city flourished under the King of Bohemia Charles IV, who ruled from 1346-1378. Much of the architecture you will see in the city comes from this time, such as Charles University (the oldest university in Central Europe), the Charles Bridge (the important thoroughfare connecting the right bank district to the castle area), the gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, and New Town (which is a charming district adjacent to Old Town). During this time Prague was the third largest city in Europe, with only Rome and Constantinople larger.
Following Charles death the city experienced about 200 years of turmoil, caused mostly by differences caused by religious beliefs and religious persecutions. Things settled down under Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who was elected King of Bohemia in 1576 and took up residence in the Prague Castle. Rudolf was a forward thinker and a lover of art, and Prague became the cultural capital of Europe. The year 1618 marked the beginning of another turbulent time in Prague, as the devastating Thirty Years’ War was fought especially in the first seven years in Bohemia. Plague and famine caused by the war sent the population of Prague to plummet.
Prague was to recover later in the 17th century, and by the mid-1800s factories spurred by the Industrial Revolution were to give it another revival period. Both World Wars I and II were too deeply affect the city, as was communism in the last half of the 10th Century.
As we can see, Prague has had a volatile history, and I devote most of this piece to its past. That is because much of what you will see there has a historical backdrop, and to really appreciate this great city is to have a grasp of what Prague has experienced in the last 700 years. When you visit, for me a great dining experience was eating the local food and drinking the local beer. They are both truly outstanding. There are literally hundreds of bars and pubs, and the local food we thought was more Slovak with some German characteristics. As with most tourist cities, go to the out-of-the-way places (the locals will point you in the right direction) and stay away from the touristy spots.